So Romania and I have recently been enjoying a fairly hands-off relationship, following the Cluj-Napoca failure and, to be honest, it's been preying on my mind. Romania, I tell myself in my Western liberal way, needs a helping hand, now more than ever, but what have I done to put cash into the country's pockets? Except for the fact that the guys who run the car cleaning place at the end of the road might be Romanians and I've certainly paid them, because, after all, they do a good job at a fair price.
Then, the answer to my prayer: Waitrose suddenly has a perfectly sensible-looking bottle on its shelves, containing a Romanian Pinot Noir, bottled under Waitrose's own brand. This is where mild bourgeois guilt conveniently meets equally mild nostalgia - that craving for the cheap Central European wines of my earlier adulthood - with the added bonus of a sub-£5 price tag. Strictly speaking, the stuff I've been looking for since the fall of Communism and the subsequent confusion and neglect among the old Iron Curtain wineries has been Hungarian - or Bulgarian, I can't tell the difference - that's the one with the real echoing resonance of nostalgia, but can I find any? So Romania it is.
And I have the perfect occasion on which to try it out: PK and his wife are over for lunch. Once we've dispatched his fancy 2009 La Tour St Bonnet - we're eating guinea fowl, by the way - it's out with my Transylvanian treat. Off comes the screwtop with a healthy snap, always a good sign, and I pour the Pinot Noir: which is a really startling colour, a kind of glittering fuschia, the colour of a Rodeo Drive convertible - and not good, not for a red wine. It also smells the way the school chemistry lab used to when the windows hadn't been opened for a bit. Mrs. K wisely won't drink it but she does take a confirmatory sniff, presumably for information to furnish the paramedics with when they come round to get us.
Taste-wise, it's not good, either. It's undrinkable, frighteningly so. No-one gets past an insect sip or two. Give it time I say - which is what I always say, knowing that neither time nor any other intercession I might think of will ever help this awful wine. We put it to one side. A day later? Still impossible to swallow. Two days? The same. If this is the best that Romania can do, then Romania is clearly not ready yet for primetime; but I don't think this is the best Romania, or anyone else, can do. Even my father-in-law could do better with his (now mercifully retired) home brew kit.
Anyway. Mrs K said that she wouldn't use it to cook with, but I know better and decide that only way I am going to get my sub-£5's worth is to get rid of it in a stew. Just pouring out the remainder of the bottle makes my eyes water and the stew is not great, although that may be as much to do with my cooking as anything. Certainly, it does not have a rich, dark, bibulous sauce; but on the other hand, no-one who eats it is physically sick. I sigh with relief and shame. Not for the first time, a nightmare wine is dealt with and life moves on.
But it does make you wonder what Waitrose's wine buyers thought they were doing when they ordered it in. Did they even try it first? Did they drink something else, only for the rascally wine producers to switch tankers on them? And this for an own brand, something they corporately identify as their choice. Absolutely baffling. I mean, this is a truly revolting wine, down there with the legendary Côtes du Rhône, but at least that was half the price. Then again, most of Waitrose's bargain wines are foul, only put on display to provide a contrast with the stuff they really want to sell, at around the £9+ mark. I know this, they know this; they also know that sheer inertia will keep morons like me coming back to their well-lit upscale shopping experience and that I will always fall prey to some filth they've acquired and need to get rid of, somewhere.
And then, with a physical jolt, I remember: I've been here before, same stuff, same horrible experience, same utter senselessness, same futile waste of time and money. Oh, God. Lock me up, someone, before I do any real damage.